City attorney and mayoral candidate Jeff Kirkpatrick Monday called for more cooperation and smarter investments in Lincoln to address the community’s delivery of mental health services. Kirkpatrick stated that gaps in our mental health safety net result in hidden costs for taxpayers.
“One of the reasons the Lancaster County jail is near capacity is that when mentally ill people are arrested and taken to jail, they often remain there for days and weeks waiting for more appropriate placement in a treatment facility. As a fiscal conservative, I am offended because it is a waste of resources to jail someone who is ill,” said Kirkpatrick. “As a decent human being, I am offended because we allow this to continue knowing that the worst place for someone suffering from a mental illness is jail. We spend our tax dollars in ways that exacerbate their condition and makes it more difficult for them to regain any degree of normalcy and health.”
Kirkpatrick added: “Often times, the goal is not to get them into long-term care, the goal is to get them stabilized, [and find the right medications to get them] back home; which is, of course, the cheapest place for them to be. That’s the highest quality of life. That’s always the goal. And for most of the people we’re talking about, they’re perfectly capable of functioning most of the time, it’s just when they go to crisis — that’s when we need to be able to respond.”
Kirkpatrick went on to note that the city agency on the front lines when it comes to dealing with mental illness is our police department. “Lincoln’s police department does a great job when it comes to dealing professionally and compassionately with our community’s mentally ill. We have built important partnerships with the mental health treatment professionals. However, this is not a good or normal situation when so much of our policing resources are tied up dealing with our residents who struggle with these health issues.”
“The problem is a lot of times when the police department is called out, they don’t know what they’re going to be confronted with,” Kirkpatrick added. “So they’re not really in the position to call someone who already has an existing therapeutic relationship, so they’re out there on their own. They deal with it the best that they can and they deal with it really well time after time, but it’s a tough spot for them to be in.”
Kirkpatrick called for more attention on how we support and treat Lincoln’s residents who struggle with mental illness. “I know this is not directly within the services that the city provides, but these are valued city residents and they deserve better. We need to bring together our health care facilities, the State of Nebraska, the county, the city, and the mental health community and find a better approach.”
When asked if this would be an issue to be solved if he were to be elected mayor, Kirkpatrick said: “I would initiate it because I think nobody else is doing that. I’m not saying that the mayor of Lincoln is the obvious person to do it, but we keep going down the road and this problem keeps reoccurring. I’m perfectly happy to step up and see what I can bring to the table.”